When one talks about club football in India, it’s hard to look beyond the clubs from Bengal and Goa. After all, they win the most, are the best supported, and have the best players in the country. If one moves beyond East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Dempo, Salgoacar, Churchill Brothers, professionally-managed clubs such as Pune FC and Mumbai FC may come to mind. Surely, one wouldn’t look towards the capital, New Delhi, for a contender. However, one club from Delhi continues to persevere, although with much difficulty, with an ambition to re-establish itself as a force to be reckoned with, at least in North India – New Delhi Heroes.
The New Delhi Heroes Football Club, which was founded in 1939, is the most successful club to come out of the capital. During its heydays, it was a considerable force in North India. They won many prestigious tournaments, including the inaugural DCM Football Tournament at the Talkatora Grounds in Delhi, after defeating King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the final. The fact that their opponents in the final had two England Internationals within their ranks made the achievement all the more commendable.
In the 1950s, The Heroes, also known as The Yellow Submarines, were blessed with a talented crop of players, who took the club to the pinnacle of Delhi football, winning the Delhi Football Association League four years in a row, from 1953 to 1956. They went on to win again in 1958 and 1959. This was the most successful decade in the club’s history and the team competed in various renowned competitions such as the IFA Shield, Rovers Cup, DCM and Durand Cup. Unfortunately, after that the Heroes failed to achieve anything of note, but were the first-ever club to qualify for the Federation Cup from Delhi.
In May, 2007, one of India’s leading Sports and Entertainment companies – IOS India – acquired the New Delhi Heroes. Thereafter, the club was restructured into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company. The promoters then ambitiously courted and signed Chima Okorie, arguably the best foreigner to have played in India, to coach the first team squad. IOS also partnered with Osian’s for the club’s principal sponsorship. After the takeover, fortunes of the club changed drastically and The Heroes went on to capture the Delhi League. The club also went on to acquire the second division license of the I-League, becoming the only club from Delhi to do so.
After the painful disbanding of Mahindra United, which was the only club from Mumbai to win the Durand Cup, at the end of the 2009-10 season, there were reports that the New Delhi Heroes will not participate in any AIFF-affiliated tournaments in 2011 and would disband. The story couldn’t be confirmed and the storm soon died down. Then the unthinkable happened – JCT, the flag-bearers of North Indian football, suddenly closed down their senior team after getting relegation from the I-League first division. The Ludhiana-based outfit cited lack of return on investment, inadequate coverage, close to negligible support as the primary reason for taking this drastic step. The football fans in India were shocked, and couldn’t help but feel guilty for their lack of support to Indian football.
The fall of JCT and the absence of another club with a pan-India presence left a huge gulf in North India, in terms of football. We, at TheHardTackle, felt that there was no club which could fill the void left by JCT, but there was one club which could rise again to carry forward the legacy, but we hadn’t heard about them for sometime. To clarify our doubts and put all our fears to rest, we contacted the promoters of New Delhi Heroes for an interview, and they gracefully obliged.
THT: Why didn’t the club participate in this year’s second division I-League? Unconfirmed reports state “In February 2011, it was announced that the New Delhi Heroes would not compete in any level of the I-League for 2011.” Can you please shed some light on this?
IOS: We never quoted that we would not be taking part in any I-League level competition. In reality, we couldn’t participate in the 2nd division I-League because we were not able to fulfill all the AFC criteria.
THT: Thank you so much for putting all speculation to rest. When are the New Delhi Heroes planning to get back into division 2 of I-League?
IOS: We plan to return in the 2011-12 season, provided we get the grant from AIFF. Let us assure you that all efforts are being made to ensure our participation.
THT: What are the challenges faced by a football club in Delhi, and in general, in North India?
IOS: Football in Delhi is suffering due to mismanagement and lack of professionalism in the Delhi Soccer Association (DSA). The DSA could not even organize the Delhi League last season, so unfortunately Delhi-based clubs had no league or tournament to play for.
In spite of regularly sending letters to AIFF, no action was taken on DSA. As a result, the complete investment on squad went for nothing in the previous season, as the team wasn’t able to play at all.
THT: Does the club have any plans to groom young players? What is the present state of ND Heroes’ infrastructure?
IOS: The club continues to work and develop grass-root level programmes. Our primary focus is on the Under-15 team.
THT: We recall that Chima Okorie was appointed the coach in 2007-08, and in an elaborate interview back then, he had explained about his team, his plans for the future, and had acknowledged the professionalism of the new promoters, IOS India. Tell us a bit about the current coaching staff and first team squad.
IOS: Chima Okorie was with the ND Heroes FC for the seasons 2008-09 & 2009-10. Currently, the whole team and management are undergoing a major reshuffle. We will release our plans in next 2 months, and assure all the readers and our fans that ND Heroes still shares the same passion and energy – we will definitely be in contention for I-league promotion next season.
THT: What are you future plans – team, coach, and infrastructure – basically for New Delhi Heroes?
IOS: Our future plan include efforts to win the 2nd Division, I-League and qualify for the I-League (first division). We also plan to continue our work on grass-root football and youth teams in Delhi. We would be adopting a community-based development of football, so that the upcoming generations are well aware of the club. We would like to promote our club as an institution, which guides and motivates the youth of our country to take up football professionally.
Thank you for your time. We sincerely hope that you are successful in all your endeavors. You have the full support of TheHardTackle.com, and we hope to soon see the club rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in Indian Football.